WASHINGTON -- Though they survived the battle and further stalled the Nationals' bid to make a long-anticipated charge in the postseason race, the Braves have to hope the lingering effects of these past few days at Nationals Park do not detrimentally affect their pitching staff.
Anibal Sanchez's early exit combined with the offense's inability to extend Giovany Gonzalez's recent woes resulted in the Braves suffering a 6-3 loss to the Nationals on Thursday afternoon. Atlanta could feel satisfied with drawing a split in this four-game set, but comfort is hard to find when a team begins its most grueling stretch by seeing a starting pitcher last just two innings twice within a span of three days.
"For what we went through," Braves manager Brian Snitker said, "leaving here, we're in a lot better shape than [we] could have potentially been in."
As the Braves prepare to host the Brewers this weekend and progress through the early stages of a stretch that includes 48 games within 48 days, they can thank Wes Parsons for finding a way to make sure a thin bullpen wasn't further taxed. Parsons would not have even been at the big league level had right-hander Shane Carle not experienced a sore right shoulder while serving as one the relievers called upon after Max Fried strained his left groin just two innings into the first game of Tuesday's doubleheader against the Nationals.
While Fried will likely be sidelined through the remainder of August, Sanchez is at least hopeful he can make his next scheduled start on Tuesday. But the veteran hurler had to hobble around the visitor's clubhouse late Thursday afternoon as he dealt with the bruised left calf suffered when he was struck by Michael A. Taylor's comebacker to end the second inning.
Once Sanchez was unable to return, Parsons entered to make his Major League debut and promptly loaded the bases before recording his second out of the third inning. The 25-year-old right-hander surrendered consecutive one-out singles and then issued back-to-back walks, including the one Juan Soto drew with the bases loaded that tied the game at 1. He ended up allowing four runs (just two in the third), but more importantly completed five innings.
"Sometimes you've got to lose the battle to win the war," first baseman Freddie Freeman said. "I thought what Wes Parsons did was absolutely huge for this ballclub. That's going to win us games later on with a fresh bullpen."
A 5-3 road trip that began at Citi Field concluded with the Braves having to deal with Sanchez's exit and an effective Gonzalez, who counted Nick Markakis' second-inning homer as the only damage he incurred over seven innings. Ronald Acuna Jr. brought the Braves within two runs with an eighth-inning homer off Justin Miller.
But Snitker's determination to look at the big picture by staying away from any of his top relievers led him to provide the eighth inning to Adam McCreery, who also had never previously pitched in the Majors. The big left-hander surrendered a pair of runs and ensured Atlanta's bullpen will be at full strength entering what could be an even more challenging series against the Brewers this weekend.
Having won games started by Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer within this road trip, the Braves return to Atlanta just one game behind the first-place Phillies. Their postseason hopes rest on the success of a recently-bruised pitching staff that exited this battle at Nationals Park in better shape than one might expect a team to be in after seeing a pair of starters last just two innings within a three-day span.
"Parsons did exactly what we needed him to do," Snitker said.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Running into an out: Third-base coach Ron Washington's aggressiveness may have cost the Braves an early run when he opted to wave Freeman toward the plate when Markakis laced a 104.6-mph single to right with two outs in the third inning. Adam Eaton fielded the ball cleanly and provided a pinpoint throw to the plate to easily deny the Braves first baseman's bid to score from second base.
"I knew I was in trouble because it was right at him and it was 105 [mph] off the bat," Freeman said. "I hit the bag, looked left and the ball was coming in. I was like, 'Either this parachute needs to detach or I need to hit the jets.' I just didn't get there. It was a perfect throw and it was right at him."
Markakis' second-inning solo shot was his 14th homer, his highest total since 2014 and the fourth he has hit against a left-hander this year. He totaled five homers over 704 at-bats against southpaws from 2014-17.
HE SAID IT
"It was big day and it was nerve-racking, for sure. It was definitely a dream come true to finally get in a game." -- Parsons, who was at the Major League level for less than 24 hours during both of his previous promotions from Triple-A Gwinnett this year
Kevin Gausman will take the mound when the Braves return home to open a three-game series against the Brewers on Friday at 7:35 p.m. ET. Gausman will be pitching in Atlanta for the first time since being acquired from the Orioles on July 31. He limited the Mets to one run and three hits before allowing three straight singles to open the sixth inning of Saturday's loss at Citi Field. The Brewers will counter with Freddy Peralta, who limited Atlanta to one run over six innings on July 6.